I’vebeen yanked from my own reality and put into one that has me reliving the scene in Romancing The Stone where Juan, the bell maker (drug lord), helps our protagonists escape in a customized 4×4 named Pepe the Little Mule, except that in this dramatic reenactment, we’re in a sometimes speeding, sometimes lurching taxi zigzagging our way across Quito, Ecuador. I’m in the back seat with Sasha. There are no seatbelts. We’re both just hanging on to the Oh shit! handles as we traverse the bumpy cobblestone streets and take corners at speed while staring out the windows half mesmerized and half stunned at what we’re experiencing. All the while this small, delighted Ecuadorian man named Wilfredo is turned around in the front seat alternating between telling the cabbie which route to take and pointing out the windows at iconic points of interest as we speed by them. We pass the Basilica del Voto with its spires reaching for the sky and just beyond that is the house of the President of Ecuador. Wilfredo is speaking to us in rapid-fire Spanish which, of course, I don’t understand. What I have been able to figure out is that we are not going to our requested destination. I am completely conflicted about how to feel about this situation. Overwhelmed by my surroundings and incapable of comprehending the conversations that are going on around me, I’m inclined to abandon all notions of responsibility and just go fuck about this incredible city.
I’m stressed out about fulfilling my work obligations which require access to the Internet. As of right now, I am completely disconnected. My iPhone is nothing more than a pocket camera that displays the time in Atlanta, the last place I had service. After having figured out the shower, which only had one knob and a small electric water heater strapped to its head and consuming some instant coffee that wasn’t as bad I thought it would be, we explained to our host that we were in desperate need of access to the Internet. Not knowing the password to the house wi-fi and not wanting to wake her son to find out, Magi walked us to the corner internet cafe where we could use an old Dell for $0.50 an hour. We found a listing for a store that sells pay-as-you-go SIM cards. Thank you, Google de Ecuador!
But we’re not going to that store. According to our hosts, Magi and Wilfredo, the store we want to visit is in an area that lacks anything of interest for a couple of American tourists fresh to the big city.
Wilfredo and Sasha are now having a conversation in Spanish that I don’t understand. Sasha’s attempt to translate the exchange is cut short by Wilfredo suddenly exiting the cab. Just a quick “chau chau” and a wave and off he goes down the street. Despite my anxiousness, I’m delighted by the sight of Wilfredo walking off down this little side street sporting his newsboy cap and an oversized sweater. He is quite an endearing old chap.
Now it’s just us, Sasha, the cabbie and I, in this cab headed to an unknown local. I admit that I’m a little shaken up by this. I’m having trouble rolling with it. When did I get so uptight? Shaking my head to clear it, I take in my surroundings. Our cab is perched at the top of a very steep and narrow street jam-packed full of bumper to bumper cars seemingly too big to fit through this canyon made of Spanish colonial facades with custom-crafted doors set at severe angles to the incline of the road. In a handful of minutes that feel like stop-motion filmmaking, we find the bottom of the hill and our destination, El Centro.
We’re now standing on a corner in downtown Quito with no map and no cell service.
I wonder if the Force works in Ecuador?